VOA: Ambassador Jeffrey, how would you assess American-Albanian relations and how important is this relationship in the framework of overall U-S foreign policy objectives in the Balkans?
Ambassador Jeffrey: The relationship has never been better. We have had an extremely good year. The Adriatic Three, NATO Initiative, Albanian support for our global war on terrorism objectives, particularly the deployment of troops to Iraq and the continuing deployment to Afghanistan, the signing of the Article 98 agreement, the visits of Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell, USAID Administrator Natsios and I can go on. It’s been a supremely good year and we are hoping for a better year this coming year.
VOA During 2003, Albania experienced significant developments. How much progress did it make in addressing the key challenges it faces, i.e., respect for the rule of law, trafficking, organized crime activity, corruption, etc.?
Ambassador Jeffrey: The record is frankly mixed. We have seen some significant steps forwards in the past let say year to 18 months. Trafficking in people, which is a horrendous crime, is significantly down. There is a interagency task force in the Albanian government working on that and we are cooperating closely as well as our EU friends and we are very pleased with the progress we have seen on that and that’s reflected on our trafficking in persons report. In addition, Albania conducted an election that while there were some problems basically is a big step forward as OSCE determined and as we have also stated and I think that that’s a very important point people need to remember. Nevertheless, as we have said before, there are serious problems still with crime, with corruption, a series of murders, several of which have been recently clarified, people have been arrested. But there needs to be more done in this area and this will to be a priority for US government and we hope for the Albanian government in the coming months.
VOA: The political scene in Albania last year was again characterized by tensions between the ruling party and the opposition, and infighting within the ruling Socialist Party. How does this political instability impact on Albania's development and Euro-Atlantic integration?
Ambassador Jeffrey: That’s a complicated question to which I cannot easily give a simple answer but I’ll try. Such turmoil and infighting and problems between the opposition and the ruling party, and within the ruling party or within any political party, are part of democracy. Nobody said democracy would be easy. In fact Secretary Powell the other day, talking just about this, said that people think that democracy is a cruise ship sailing confidently straight, powerfully towards its goal. Rather it’s a lifeboat bouncing up and down in the water and it’s trying to make its way forward but the only thing we can count on is that it won’t sink. And I think that’s a good description of democracy in my own country or any other country. And we have seen a bit of that this year in Albania.
VOA: At the recent congress of the Socialist Party, Prime Minister Nano purged his main rivals. Some analysts in Albania say that the congress reminded them of Communist Party congresses. Do you see a danger of democracy slipping back with Prime Minister Nano consolidating too much power and eliminating dissent within his ruling party and government?
Ambassador Jeffrey: Let stay with our analogy of a lifeboat. Sometimes it takes on water, sometimes it bounces along the surface well, but the key thing is does it keep from sinking. In terms of internal party issues, debates and disputes, we try very hard as outsiders not to get involved. We only ask for two things. First of all, that the basic rules of the road, of the party, and of the constitution are adhered to. And secondly, this is very important, that the people in the end decide. At the end of the day, by a secret vote the party membership shows who they wanted to lead them in the Socialist Party. Even more importantly, based upon the actions of the Socialist Party, based upon its agenda, based upon its leadership, the Albanian people will decide when we next have general elections, what they think of the party just as they will of the Democratic Party and the other parties.
VOA: Albania is a staunch supporter of the United States-led coalition in Iraq, and you refereed to this earlier. Does this mean, as some critics of the government say, that the United States is likely to be less critical of the slow pace of reform and democratization in Albania and will not hold the government accountable for failing to curb high level corruption and fight organized crime?
Ambassador Jeffrey: Thank you very much. This is a very important question and I am very happy to answer it. The answer is absolutely not. First of all, again citing Secretary Powell, we believe that we should be able to do more than one thing at once. Fighting the war on terrorism but also pushing forwards on reforms, because we believe, and the president has been very eloquent in this regard, that the two issues are very closely intertwined. If you have rule of law, democracy, free market economies then you are less likely to have the route causes of terrorism. So that while we are working hard with our Albanian friends and many others in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Balkans, we are also simultaneously, with tens of millions of dollars just in Albania and hundreds of millions just in the Balkans, working on reform on democratic institutions, a free media, and on and on and on. And the two are linked and we don’t see any difference between these two agendas because there are one agenda, which is a free, peaceful and prosperous world.
VOA: Finally, Mr. Ambassador, what hopes do you have for Albania in the New Year? Ambassador Jeffrey: First of all, it is our hope that this country is gaining momentum as a stable, rule of law country with a growing economy. There is no doubt about the economy. When we look at all economic indicators from exports to growth to inflation, the statistics are good. Many countries in Europe would be happy if their basic statistics were as good as that of Albania. We have to build on that, however, encourage more foreign investments that’s so important and stabilize the political system so that people are not diverted from the NATO and the EU reform agendas by internal conflicts. They are normal, and at times necessary, but they do divert. So let’s hope that we can have a focused year.